23 August 2021

Public housing complex in quarantine after visitor tests positive for COVID-19

| Ian Bushnell
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Condamine Court

Condamine Court in Turner: 70 tenants face 14-day quarantine. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

One of the city’s major public housing blocks has been locked down after a visitor with COVID-19 stayed overnight for five days last week.

The roughly 70 residents of Condamine Court in Turner are now listed as close contacts and confined to a 14-day quarantine.

They are being supported by a multi-agency task force led by ACT Health that was set up over the weekend from late on Saturday night.

The exposure happened from Sunday, 15 August through to Thursday, 19 August. None of the residents have tested positive for the virus so far, with teams of nurses testing 55 of them over the weekend.

Some residents were not at home, and others have health requirements, but no one refused to be tested.

Some have been vaccinated but ACT Health is still to determine the full picture and is looking to vaccinate those who haven’t had a jab.

READ ALSO ACT records 16 new COVID cases, CHO says testing numbers need to rise

A self-contained staging point has been established at Turner Primary School, separate from the rest of the school, for the teams involved in meeting the residents’ food, cleaning and laundry, medical supplies, PPE and mental health support needs.

It is not known if the visitor, whose movements were picked up in contact tracing, is a tenant at another public housing property.

ACT Health believes there may be other exposure sites stemming from the visitor diagnosed with COVID-19 after being at Condamine Court while infectious.

If a positive case emerges from Condamine Court, they will be assessed on site and managed there or moved to another facility to isolate.

Condamine Court residents were concerned and anxious when they were told the news but grateful for the government support, the result of long-term plans for managing such a situation in the ACT’s multi-unit public housing complexes.

Teams doorknocked the complex over the weekend and again today to ask about their needs.

Turner Primary School.

A staging point has been set up at the David Street entrance of Turner Public School. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Housing and Education Minister Yvette Berry said this was a people-first approach, adding that the government had learned from what happened in Victoria last year when a public housing tower was locked down immediately without regard to the people living there.

“We first of all went to support the people before Health made an assessment on what Condamine would be identified as, as far as a response to COVID,” she said.

This involved providing as much information as possible about the situation and what will happen over the coming days while they are in quarantine.

A 24/7 hotline has been set up for residents, and they will also receive printed and text messages to keep them informed. Interpreters will be provided for some residents.

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Homelessness and Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said communication was crucial in such an environment where some residents have complex medical needs, including mental illness.

“It’s a scary time for anyone but particularly for people who might be dealing with complexity and have some vulnerability,” she said.

ACT Health expects that many people have been in and out of the building over the period in question, and case investigation teams would be working with residents to track them down.

The task force includes staff from ACT Health, Community Services, Education and police, supported by non-government organisations.

Earlier this year, Condamine Court residents had complained about a lack of maintenance and poor security at the complex.

Ms Vassarotti said that a lot of work had been done over the past few months to address these issues and said some design improvements were also being looked at to make the building safer.

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Feel sorry for those who just want to live the quiet life. Even while living in big strata blocks in Sydney often thought an on site manager would be useful, if not a police station next door! (can’t particularly recommend living between ambulance and fire stations though)

Ray Polglaze1:18 pm 24 Aug 21

Condamine Court is actually “salt and peppered”. About 80 percent of the people living at Condamine Court don’t cause problems for anyone. About 30% are aged people including those in the purpose built aged persons units. Many of the other tenants have disabilities or mental health challenges but are nevertheless able to live their lives without disturbing others.

A very large proportion of the problems at Condamine Court come from a small number of tenants who have apparent severe long term mental health and drug addiction problems. Those people should not be in public housing. They should not be out on the street. They should be in properly supported accommodation with the staff to support and protect them.

One of the main functions of public housing in Canberra is to provide a cheap salve for the consciences of ACT Government Ministers and the ACT community.

Public Housing in Canberra is being used as a cheap alternative to mental hospitals or other specific accommodation for people with severe long term mental health and drug addiction problems.

The ACT Government and the ACT Community can tick the box of providing these people with accommodation without spending the money that would be needed to build and staff the facilities that are needed to properly support these people.

I think this is shameful negligence on the part of ACT Government Ministers and a community that like to think of themselves as compassionate and concerned about social justice.

Don’t worry, according to ACT Government history all the issues with Condamine Court can easily be fixed by selling off the land to Geocon and shipping the public housing tenants off to Tuggeranong, Gunghalin and Molonglo where there’s little services, support, facilities or public transport.

That will thankfully make Messrs Barr and Rattenbury’s inner north Electorate that little but more gentrified, make canberra property developers a lot more money and put the undesirables out of minds eye.

This government loves theoretical and philosophical socialist principles, ideals and aspirations but in reality they’ve stopped delivering social support for the city’s poorest and Canberra’s outer suburbs. The have slowly become the definition of Chardonnay socialism.

Surely you don’t think it’s better to put all these people together in inner city slums like Condamine Court?

As for access to services, why should public housing tenants get preferential treatment compared to people renting (or even owners) in outer suburban areas?

The salt and pepper approach to public housing is far superior and most of the new partial public housing estates are on major public transport routes, allowing them to get to the major service areas around the town centres.

No doubt this government has focused on the Inner North far too much in its policy directions, but splitting these mass public housing developments across the city is a good move.

100% I agree in salt and pepper. Condamine court is from the late 90s, so in theory it shouldn’t be like the old 1950s unit blocks. But it’s been badly neglected by the government for years. We definitely should be doing public and social housing better than what we are.

But I’m sure we agree the salt is going to the areas like Molonglo that I mentioned and not being spread evenly across the city. ABC Canberra did a report on this.

The specialist services and support for disadvantaged people aren’t out in the burbs, this has been an ongoing complaint for those affected. The support shouldn’t now just be for inner north renters.

As for most new public housing being on major transport routes this isn’t true. Some of the new places had their nearby public transport taken away. Surely you can’t claim that the removed inner city public housing have better public transport than before?

I don’t think ACT Government has managed housing for the disadvantaged at all well over the last decade. But I think we’ll have to continue to disagree on that one.

“Salt and Pepper” is probably the best approach.

Unfortunately in Coombs the government followed the “Sauce Bottle Blob”. Setting up public housing complexes in that suburb is not “Salt and Pepper” and seems to be causing problems.

But we are dealing with incompetent (or dishonest) planners. If they really believe the narrative that public housing complexes aren’t bad, why would they build side by side, two suburbs where:
Coombs has multiple public housing complexes.
Wright had no public housing complexes (until one was shoehorned in once people complained).

That type of planning just sends a message that Wright is intended to be a more upmarket suburb as it didn’t have such complexes.

Are our planners really that incompetent, or did their real opinions get caught out?

I’m sure they haven’t successfully split the public housing residents equally by suburbs but that more accurately reflects logistical issues in relocating residents into older areas. Can you link the ABC report you are referencing, not sure if I’ve seen it.

And of course the newer areas won’t have access to public transport as good as inner city areas but once again I would say, why should they get such a preference over outer suburban renters or other residents?

I’m not saying the ACT government has managed public housing well, but I think they’ve improved the situation, admittedly coming off a low base.

Condamine Court has been around a lot longer than the 90s. It is a 1950’s style construction with a jazzed up facade. I am not sure why it didn’t go with rest of the renewal.

Ray Polglaze10:43 pm 24 Aug 21

The older sections of Condamine Court were originally built in about 1962. They were substantially refurbished in 1996 with bedsitters being converted to one and two bedroom units. More than half the 70 units in the complex are completely new build from 1996 and 1997. That includes purpose built aged persons units.

The cost of replacing the 70 units at Condamine Court would be arround $28 million to $35 million. The value of the land is less than $8 million. Demolishing the units and selling the land would involve a loss of $20 million or more.

The units at Condamine Court are relatively high quality and well built public housing units. The problems at Condamine Court are from the inadequate maintenance and management of the complex by Housing ACT.

Ray, I agree with your version of events. I did some volunteer mentoring of Condamine residents a number of years ago and they reflected very similar stories to you.

Hi Chewy, when Publicly available information, I’ve been happy to back up my claims with data and links. That’s one of the rare things you can agree with me on.



Hi BJ,
Thanks for that. Looking at them, it shows that there has been improvement in the spread of public housing across the city compared to 10-20 years ago. People seem to get caught up with the fact that there is less public housing in the inner city areas but that was by design because those areas used to have very large %.

Obviously large clumps of public housing in small areas is a bad thing but there’s clearly been improvements on this front from what existed previously.

I’m not sure the public housing experts or social services groups would agree there’s been improvements in the spread of public housing in Canberra (just a natural shift into new areas such as Molonglo and Gunghalin).

I would follow many of the non profit groups and academics and give the Barr Government an F for Public housing over the last decade, but I think the Minister and budget forecasts now agree that new stock has to be built. I’d like to see a bigger focus on Community housing, where charities aren’t as restricted as government in moving on violent and destructive tenants. Also much lower annual rates and land tax for low income renters than the mediocre and failed low rent scheme the ACT Government introduced.

Unclear how Condamine Court can be fit for purpose as we head into the post pandemic age. It is riddled with drug addicts, mentally ill and vulnerable people people in an often violent environment. It surely needs to be levelled and put out to the market for modern housing.

Your estimates of the value of the buildings appear spurious. They would be on the books at their written down value, which would surely be approaching zero. The pot shots by other commentators about some of the newer sites lacking in services are quite inaccurate. For example, services to Molonglo will receive a massive boost with the opening of the Woolworths at Wright. And the R10 bus service gets to Civic well within 15 minutes most hours of the day. There is also a pretty good bus service to Woden Monday to Friday. There is also that God awful service station/fast food complex near the RSPCA.

Those media stats on public housing numbers are not anywhere close to accurate, probably based on deliberately murky gubmint data provided to media for the story. The FOI publications page has the real stats. For example, the 2020 ABC story says Oaks Estate has 22% public housing. In fact, it’s 53%. There’s 78 public housing dwellings there. This matters because it completely changes what people think they know about how (badly) the government has handled public housing.

Ray’s comments should scare the hell out of people, with dozens of avoidable COVID cases likely walking the streets today.

Just to be clear. The services I was talking about (can’t speak for others) is specialised psychiatric, diet, health, employment, education, methadone chemist, social support services, drop in centres, etc. Not shops or takeaway restaurants.

Many people who were in the old inner city public housing that was replaced by Geocon units etc complain (rightly or wrongly) that they’ve lost their friends, services and support they used to have in Civic.

Some would rather live on the streets of Civic than in outer Richardson or Banks. But this is maybe more mental illness related than clear decision making.

Ray Polglaze6:23 pm 23 Aug 21

My comment from yesterday on Condamine Court as a tenant of Condamine Court:

Condamine Court on Northbourne Avenue in Turner is now a close contact site for COVID 19. This is a complete disaster for the ACT community. Condamine Court has at least ten active drug dealers. There are many drug users, possibly hundreds, coming to Condamine Court to access drugs. There is no prospect that all of these drug users are going to identify themselves as having been to Condamine Court. There is therefore no prospect of being able to track and trace COVID 19 from exposure to the drug dealing at Condamine Court.

The problems with drug dealing at Condamine Court and the risks this poses for the other tenants of the complex have been raised with both Housing Ministers and Housing ACT from multiple directions for more than a year. Nevertheless, Yvette Berry, as the Minister responsible for Housing ACT’s maintenance, has been unable to get the basic maintenance work done that is necessary to protect the tenants. It has been impossible to get the foyer doors fixed so that tenants can secure the stairwells. This has allowed drug dealers to use housing complex as a drug playground.

The saga of Condamine Court is now a remarkable trail of negligence and incompetence by the Minister and her department. This has now predictably placed in jeopardy the health of the ACT community. The COVID 19 risks from having a public housing complex acting as a drug “food barn” with multiple dealers and users has long been apparent. But still the Minister and her department have failed to act.

Now that COVID 19 is probably spreading through the drug users of Inner North Canberra, it may be impossible to bring it under control in the ACT.

Are there adequate numbers of police and defence force personnel there enforcing the lockdown?

Take a chill pill from a Neighbour. Drug dealers are an essential service. I think personally that you’re probably blowing it all out of perspective because you think you can manipulate act housing to give you somewhere else to live. Or you love to play the victim and this is your 15 minutes of fame.

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